Edmonton Symphony Orchestra all Beethoven concert: review by Isis Tse

William Eddins                                 photo: ESO


Winspear Centre

Wednesday, May 17, 2017




BEETHOVEN: Overture from Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (“The Creatures of Prometheus”), Opus 43

BEETHOVEN: Romance for Violin No. 2 in F major, Opus 50 (Eric Buchmann, violin)

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 8 in F major, Opus 93

BEETHOVEN: Romance cantabile in E minor
Elizabeth Koch (flute), Matthew Howatt (bassoon), Bill Eddins (piano)

BEETHOVEN: Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello in C major, Opus 56 “Triple”
Robert Uchida (flute), Rafael Hoekman (cello) Bill Eddins (piano)

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s “Immortal Beethoven” concert on Wednesday, May 17, featured, as the title suggests, an all-Beethoven program. Two days earlier, Metro Cinema (at the historic Garneau Theatre) had partnered with the ESO to co-present the film “Immortal Beloved” in anticipation of this concert.

The works on the program were certainly some of the less commonly played works, mainly from Beethoven’s middle period. The program began with the Overture from The Creatures of Prometheus, Beethoven’s only complete ballet. Beethoven isn’t a composer who comes to mind when one thinks of ballet, but the work had been relatively well-performed during the composer’s lifetime.

The concert featured many ESO members as soloists, beginning with associate concertmaster Eric Buchmann with Romance for Violin No. 2. The delicacy and youthful phrasing of the Romance shine in Buchmann’s performance. While the piece is largely free of the angst which we could come to associate with Beethoven, the dynamic and mood contrasts in the piece could have been more dramatic, particularly in the arpeggiated sections.

While Beethoven’s middle period is often nicknamed his “heroic” period, these selections present a more light-hearted, humorous side of the composer. His Eighth Symphony quickly followed his Seventh, but bears little resemblance to its famous predecessor. At the time of its premiere, the Eighth was met with confusion by audiences. According to his student Carl Czerny, Beethoven’s response to the lukewarm reaction of audiences as compared to the popularity of the Seventh was because the Eighth “is so much better”.

The orchestra delivered on the charming aspect of Classicism. However, the transformations of the first theme, the unusual harmonies, and the strange silences of the first movement weren’t given the special treatment needed to bring them to light. In the middle of the movement, the building harmonic and dynamic intensity leads towards the resolution with the forte-fortissimo (fff) restatement of the first theme in the bassoons, cellos, and basses; however, it was not quite punctuating enough to truly resolve the tension.

The second movement, rather than being a traditional slow movement, is a quaint Scherzo. The incessant rhythmic ticking of the winds, captured wonderfully in this performance, is a reference to his friend Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, who had invented the metronome. The third movement, a minuet and trio, is a nod to Mozart and Haydn; Beethoven had generally used the faster Scherzo form in the third movements of his previous symphonies. The minuet featured lyrical and sensuous lines, with the accompanying trio showcasing delicate chamber music playing. The finale is a showcase of Beethoven’s humour, with the out of key C-sharp (in the key of F major) punctuating the music, until it brings the movement to the unlikely key of F sharp minor. The drama of this C sharp is lost within the texture, making the resolution sound too easy. The extended, spirited coda, which reinforces the tonic F major with out-of-proportion exuberance, brought the symphony to a close.

The second half of the program began with Romance cantabile in E minor, showcasing more of the ESO musicians’ expressive and delicate playing as soloists: Elizabeth Koch (principal flute), Matt Howatt (acting principal bassoon), and Bill Eddins. The concert concluded with the rarely performed Triple Concerto, featuring concertmaster Robert Uchida, principal cellist Rafael Hoekman, and Bill Eddins on piano. With the soloists’ entrances in the first movement, it was clear that this would be a melodious, gentle rendering of the Concerto.

As with any piano trio, the balance of the instruments was an issue; both Uchida and Eddins are certainly team players, but Hoekman, in the lower registers especially, struggled to be heard in the large hall. The Largo showcases the trio’s heartfelt playing, with a seamless transition into the lively, joyous finale. The audience was glad to hear the energy from these soloists, and they were met with a standing ovation.

The Winspear was nearly fully packed for this concert. It was refreshing to see such a large turnout, especially given that it was a Wednesday. Groups of schoolchildren in attendance received special recognition from Bill Eddins; hopefully, these young children will be supporting classical music in their futures.

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra: Tchaikovsky, Langgaard, and Sibelius

Friday May 12 (repeated Saturday May 13)

Simone Porter
photo: Jeff Fasano Photography

Simone Porter (violin)
Alexander Prior (conductor)


Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
Langgaard: Symphony No. 4 “Fall of the Leaf”
Sibelius: Symphony No. 7





To read Mark Morris’ review in the Edmonton Journal of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Friday May 12 – Alexander Prior’s last concert with the ESO before taking up his position as their Chief Conductor this September –  featuring the marvellous young American violinist Simone Porter, click here.

2017 Early Music Festival review

Saturday, May 6 (afternoon) First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

Vivaldi: Trio Sonata in C major, RV 82

Renée Pérez Rodríguez (archlute) Stephanie Wong (harpsichord)

Vivaldi: Chamber Concerto in G major, RV 554
Telemann: Viola Concerto in G major, TWV 51:G9
Alessandro Marcello: Oboe Concerto in D minor, S.Z. 799
Vivaldi: Concerto for 2 violins in A minor, RV 522

Divertimento Chamber Ensemble

Fortunato Chelleri: Suite in E
J.S. Bach: Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041
Arrangement of Buxtehude: Passacaglia, BWV 161

La Folia Baroque String Ensemble


Saturday, May 6 (evening) First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

Corelli: Concerto grossi and sonatas Geminiani: sonatas

Naomie Delafield (baroque violin)
Laura Veeze (baroque violin)
Gabriele Thielmann (baroque violin)
Louise Stuppard (baroque violin)
Ronelle Schaufele (baroque viola)
Josephine van Lier (baroque cello)
Joëlle Morton (baroque bass)
Marnie Giesbrecht (harpsichord)


Sunday May 7 First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

Arrangements of J.S. Bach:

Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor, BWV 867, from Well-Tempered Clavier Fantasia in G minor BWV 572
aria “Schafe können sicher weiden” (“Sheep May Safely Graze”) from the Hunting Cantata, BWV 208
Brandenburg Concerto No.6, BWV 1051 Sonatina (Molto adagio) from the cantata Actus Tragicus, BWV 106
Partita No.2 for violin in D minor, BWV 1004
Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582
Sonata No.3 for viola da gamba and harpsichord, BWV 1029

Elizabeth Rumsey (treble and tenor viols)
Joëlle Morton (tenor viol)
Debra Lonergan (bass viol)
Josephine Van Lier (consort bass viol)
Marilyn Fung (G violone)
Jeanne Yang (harpsichord)

The Early Music Festival presented by Early Music Alberta has now been running since 2011, and has happily settled down into a successful formula with a healthy audience base. Alongside the major concerts, the three-day festival held in the downtown First Presbyterian Church includes dance and performance workshops for those new to period practice, masterclasses, and pre-concert talks. In other words, it consciously aims at both those who are early-music aficionados, and those new to such period music.

“Early music” for Early Music Alberta encompasses quite a range of eras, for much of their music-making is of baroque music, rather than Renaissance or medieval works. I couldn’t, unfortunately, attend the main opening early music concert on the Friday (May 5), where Edmonton’s professional early music choral group, the Scona Chamber Singers, gave a program of English choral music from the Tudor period. The rest of the festival was, indeed, of Baroque music.

One thing that the Festival (and Early Music Alberta) really has encouraged is the playing of early music by Edmonton musicians, both amateur and professional, often on original instruments or their copies. That was reflected in this year’s Festival, with the Saturday afternoon concert especially devoted to local amateur groups.

It opened splendidly with a Vivaldi trio sonata (in C major, RV 82) played on a relative rarity, the archlute, by René Pérez Rodríguez, with Stephanie Wong on the harpsichord. The archlute is much as the name might suggest – a basic lute body with and extended neck and strings to give a wider range of lower notes. The trio sonata was originally written for lute, violin, and continuo, but it worked well in this arrangement, particularly in the slow movement where the contribution from the harpsichord was less pronounced, and the particular richness of the archlute could come across.

The Divertimento Chamber Ensemble, who followed, is a group of amateur musicians who come together to play early music on modern instruments, here including a decidedly anachronistic saxophone. It was played by Rafael Tian, very effectively in the opening Vivaldi Chamber Concerto in C major, RV 554, where he made the instrument sound analogous to organ pipes.

The rest of their program was entertaining, too, with the amateur status of the ensemble primarily obvious in the inevitable occasional lapses of intonation. Joe Dupis was the soloist in a Telemann viola concerto, played with gusto. The two different movements of Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in D Minor, S.Z. 799, were given to two different instruments: the oboe (Verona Goodman), and then saxophone – an interesting contrast. Vivaldi’s Concerto for 2 Violins in A minor, RV 522, was played with great enthusiasm by the whole ensemble, with Carlene Friesen and Anele Mhlahlo effective soloists – the latter, a student at Burman University in Lacombe, had stepped in at relatively short notice to take over from a soloist who was unavailable.

The second half of the concert was given by La Folia Baroque String Ensemble, a group of Edmonton amateur musicians who play on original instruments or copies, under the musical direction of a professional, the artistic director of the Festival, Josephine van Lier. The Festival always tries to include some less familiar work, and La Folia opened with the Suite in E by Fortunato Chelleri, an Italian composer who worked in both Italy and Germany. The music – essentially a dance suite – was pleasant enough, but not in truth that memorable. Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041, however, needs little introduction, and received a committed performance from Lois Harder, who besides being an enthusiastic amateur musician, is Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. The performance was nicely paced, too, in the outer movements, though surely a little slow in the middle movement – Harder could accommodate the tempi van Lier had chosen, but it made for rather a plodding-sounding ensemble. With an effective arrangement of a Buxtehude organ Passacaglia (in D minor, BxWV161) to close, La Folia showed that the art of amateur music making is happily alive and well in an age of streaming downloads and ear buds.

The concert on Saturday evening (May 6) was devoted to the concerto grosso, with works mainly by the master of the form, Arcangelo Corelli, and two by Francesco Saverio Geminiani, the Italian composer who later worked in England, and is perhaps best known for his treatise The Art of the Violin (1731). The all-string (plus harpsichord), and all-women ensemble was made up of Albertan musicians specializing in early music.

I unfortunately was unable to stay for the second half of what was a substantial concert, but there was plenty to enjoy in the first half, with some notable playing in particular from violinist Laura Veeze, a member of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The opening Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.2, a work full of lyrical, sometimes almost sentimental, music, got the evening off to an excellent start, and there was wonderfully lively and enthusiastic playing in Corelli’s Op.6 No.4. Most enjoyable music making.

The final evening on Sunday (May 7) recreated a concert given in Toronto in 2015. Van Lier reassembled the consort of distinguished international early music players who had played in that concert, from the States, Switzerland, and Canada. They formed a relative rarity: a so-called ‘low consort’ of viols. Viol consorts usually consist of treble, tenor, and bass, but the ‘low consort’ has two tenors, two basses, and a violone, a bass instrument that was the forerunner of the double bass. The overall sound of the ‘low consort’ is, as one would expect, a little darker and richer than the standard consort, creating a warm sound that still retains that particular viol edge to the tone. This ensemble, too, was very homogeneous in that sound, despite the range of instruments – closer together in tones and colours than, say, a modern string quartet. Again, all the musicians were women – in itself welcome, but this was not a gender-neutral festival!

If we perhaps particularly associate a consort of viols with 16th-century music, the instruments continued to be used until well into the 18th century (Louis XIV particularly liked their sound), and this concert consisted entirely of Bach works, arranged for this particular combination of string instruments.

The opening sonatina from the funeral cantata Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106, didn’t need too much arranging, as the original is for two alto recorders, two violas da gamba, and bass continuo. It worked well for the da gamba ensemble, though I confess I did rather miss the sharpness of the recorder against the strings of the original – the effect was to submerge the importance of that tune, making the whole thing more funereal.

The organ Fantasia in G minor BWV 572 didn’t work quite so well – the ensemble was too homogeneous in its sound to successfully recreate the various colours of the organ pipes – but the famous aria “Schafe können sicher weiden” (“Sheep May Safely Graze” from the Hunting Cantata, BWV 208), where the consort was joined by harpsichord, was very attractive indeed, those colours being all to the advantage. Similarly the clarity of different voices, and the pizzicato section of the Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582, made for some attractive music-making.

The Brandenburg Concerto No.6 was especially entertaining, the intertwining flow of the ensemble really working in the opening movement, and with some sensitive playing from harpsichordist Jeanne Yang. Again, the arrangement didn’t need to stray too far from the original, which is for two violas, two viola da gamba, cello, violin, and harpsichord.

The final work in the festival was a different matter. It had been billed as Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.7 (which of course doesn’t exist), but was actually an arrangement of his Sonata No.3 for viola da gamba and harpsichord, BWV 1029. The idea for naming this as the seventh Brandenburg (there have been other candidates) comes from Peter Williams, who argued in Early Music in 1984 that the sonata had first been conceived as a concerto. An arrangement by Duncan Bruce in C minor, for the same instrumentation as the Brandenburg Concerto No.6, was published in 1992, and I assume formed the basis for this viol consort arrangement.

Inevitably, the arrangement is fairly extensive, with much of the original harpsichord writing being given to the consort, with a more continuo role for harpsichord here. Indeed, there are distinct similarities to the 6th Brandenburg, especially in the first movement, and if it doesn’t quite have the bite of that more celebrated work, it made an unexpected and welcome foil to it.

This was a most attractive concert, played with enthusiasm and authority, interesting not only for the consort itself, but also for the arrangements of Bach. There was something wonderfully mellow about it, leaving one in a comfortable, happy mood, as if one had just finished a good dinner in entertaining company with a glass of rich port – a successful ending to another successful Early Music Festival.

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra new season, 2017-2018

Alexander Prior photo by Buffy Goodman

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has announced its 2017-2018 season, its first under its new Chief Conductor, Alexander Prior.

To read Mark Morris’ summary of the season and its highlights in the Edmonton Journal, click here.


Interesting repertoire includes:


Beethoven:         Violin Concerto                 Andrew Wan (violin)         Nov 8

Berg:                     Violin Concerto                 Robert Uchida                   Nov 24

Bruch:                   Violin Concerto No.1       Andrew Wan (violin)       Sept 1

Dvorak:                 Cello Concerto                  Daniel Hass (cello)           Mar 18

Elgar:                     Cello Concerto                  Andreas Brantelid (cello) Mar 23

Estacio:                 Trumpet Concerto           Robin Doyon                      Mar 18

Grieg:                    Piano Concerto                 Katherine Chi (piano)      Sept 16

Kabalevsky:        Violin Concerto                 Eric Buchmann (violin)   Jan 13

Korngold:            Violin Concerto                 Blake Pouliot (violin)       Feb 24

Mozart:                Concerto for Two Pianos                                               Oct 11
Sara Davis Buechner, Williams Eddins (pianos)

Prokofiev:           Piano Concerto No. 1      Ilya Yakushev                     April 28

Prokofiev:           Piano Concerto No. 3      Luca Buratto (piano)       Nov 5

Ravel:                    Piano Concerto in G        Angela Chang                   Jan 26

Saint-Saëns:       Cello Concerto No.1        Stéphane Tétrault            Sept 29


Beethoven:          Symphony No.9                                                               Jun 1

Dvorak:                Symphony No.9 New World                                         Oct 28

Glazunov:            Symphony No.4 The Lyrical                                         Sept 29

Haydn:                  ‘Surprise’ Symphony                                                      Jan 13

Hindemith:          Mathis der Maler symphony                                       Nov 24

Rachmaninov:     Symphony No.1                                                              Mar 23

Vaughan Williams:    Symphony No.8                                                      Mar 10


Adams:                 Harmonielehre                                                               Sept 16

Britten:                 Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes                   Mar 23

Janacek:               Taras Bulba                                                                    Sept 16

Liadov:                  The Enchanted Lake                                                    Jan 26


Details and brochure: edmontonsymphony.com